John Rous, an unremarkable parson from Suffolk, was baptised all of 430 years ago today, and is only remembered because of a diary he kept and which was published in the mid-19th century. This diary, though telling us very little about the man himself, is full of news about the world beyond, and of a variety of skits and satirical verses.
John was baptised on 20 April 1584 at Hessett, Suffolk, son of Anthony Rous, rector of Hessett, and his first wife, Margery. John Rous was admitted a pensioner of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1598, and studied through to an MA in 1607. That same year he was ordained at Norwich. From 1600, Anthony Rous was rector of Weeting, and John served as his assistant from then until his father’s death in 1631.
John Rous married Susanna around 1615, and they had three daughters. When she died, he married Hannah, and had at least two more daughters. From 1623, he had his own living in the small village of Santon Downham, close by Weeting, but after the death of his father went to live in the nearby town of Brandon. John travelled to London occasionally, and possibly - though this is disputed - as far as Geneva once. He probably served as a justice of the peace for a period. He died in 1644.
John Rous is only known of today because of a diary he wrote. It survived through to the middle of the 19th century when it was edited by Mary Anne Everett Green and published (in 1856) by the Camden Society as Diary of John Rous, incumbent of Santon Downham, Suffolk, from 1625 to 1642. It is freely available at Internet Archive.
Much of Rous’s diary concerns public events, both national and local - proclamations, petitions, trials and military and foreign events. There is almost nothing by way of information about his own personal life (except in the book’s introduction), but, unusually, there are large number of verses, skits and satirical rhymes, which he seems to have written into his diary as a kind of record of the times he was living in.
13 June 1631
‘Anthony Rous, my father, of All Saints in Weeting, parson, from June 1600, died.
That day at night, Sir Martin Stutvill, of Dalham, comming from the Sessions at Bury, with Sir George le Hunt, went into the Angell. and there being mery in a chayer, either readie to take tobacco, or having newly done it, (ut fertur) leaned backward with his head, and died immediatlie.’
18 July 1631
‘Were executed at Bury 13; whereof iij., a boy of 16 and ij. women, were executed for burning of Walderswicke, in Suffolk. The boy, upon his death, affirmed that his sister councelled, and the other woman (who was begotten with child by Nathan Browning of Dennington, before marriage,) gave him fire. They both affirmed themselves cleere. The sister confessed there, before Mr. Ward, her falte in standing excommunicate. The boy, they say, was borne at Wimondham, in the yeere of the fire there. Forty houses were burned, June 10, or thereabout, and 8 at a second time, July 3, being Sunday. After this it was discovered.
About this time were gone and going diverse voluntaries, gathered Marques up by the drumme, to goe with marques Hamilton to the helpe of the king of Swedeland, in the German warres.
Together with reporte of the king of Sweden’s besieging of Magdenburg, which Tilly [Count of Tilly who commanded the Catholic League’s forces in the Thirty Years’ War] had taken this summer and burnt, killing all without mercy, it was said, upon Sir Thomas Jermin’s worde that our agent in Poland had written thus to our King. The queen of Poland and her Jesuites and Priests made a greate triumph for Tillie’s taking of Magdenburg, erecting Calvin’s and Luther’s statues in ij. postes, which they burned with an hellish greate fire; but in returning, most of the Priests and Jesuites were killed by fier from heaven, and the queene stroken madde, and as is thought thereupon soone deade.’
14 October 1631
‘Newes from Cambridge that there was a greate fight betweene the king of Sweden with the duke of Saxony, and Tilly on the other side. Tilly was taken, and is deade [this is incorrect, he died the following year]; his whole army dispersed, &c. The king carried the duke among the slaine, and asked him how he liked of it. The duke said it was a sad spectacle. “Well,” said the king, “all this you are the cause of; for, if you had not stood neuter at the first, this had beene prevented.” Tilly bewailed his unfortunatenes, since, he cruelly massacred them of Magdenburgh, which he did at the emperor’s especiall command. [. . .]
Cambridge is wonderously reformed since the plague there; schollers frequent not the streetes and tavernes as before; but doe worse.’
12 December 1631
‘At night as is thought, some West-country packman that had sold all in Norfolk, returned by Thetford, and went towards Barton milles late; but the next morning three horses with pack saddles and two packes were found short of Elden a mile. These horses and packes are seised by the lord of Elden. Some thinke a man is murthered and robbed: some thinke that it a servant that is ridden away on the fourth horse with the mony. The packes were fish, either bought or trucked at Norwich or Yermouth.’
1 April 1633
‘Being Easter day. Doctor Buttes, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, and maister of Bennet Colledge, did hang himselfe. The King and Queene were at Cambridge but a while before; something gave occasion.’
The Diary Junction